The World According To

Why Is It So Hard To Find The Perfect Nightwear?

embroidered heart

It began with a pair of Ladybird’s, I’m pretty sure of that. In a cosy brushed cotton with little flower motifs. It wasn’t like there was a whole lot of choice back then – I mean are they even still around, Ladybird?

Google says yes and there they are, £7.20 at Mothercare. In fact the brand that first appeared on UK rails in 1938 is now owned by Shop Direct, the UK’s largest online retailer.  It survived the retail armageddon and is now the third largest kidswear brand in the UK, with a growing market share of 5%.

Seriously, who knew?

Boarding school at 11 meant progressing onto regulation winceyette nighties from M & S.  This was a Catholic convent and girls didn’t usually wear PJs in the 70s,  gender stereotyping being still mandatory back then. Here I really need to give you a bit of a history of ‘winceyette’ because it was one of my mother’s favourite words, along with ‘Axminster’ carpets, both of which occupy the part of my brain where Horlicks, Angel Delight and Top of the Pops reside.

Traditionally, winceyette is a cotton fabric made from a twill weave, with a design similar to flannel only slightly thinner and more breathable. For those familiar with weaving (yep, no-one), the weft is closer than the warp.  So, that’s winceyette, which along with collywobbles, it’s probably one of the best  British words ever.

But the perfect fabric for nightwear? Maybe as a child in the perma-frost that was 70s central heating, but it was neither attractive nor stylish. (Fortunately teens had little idea of either concepts back then.)

Throughout my twenties I travelled the world and can’t remember ever wearing anything in bed beyond a succession of t-shirts. Maybe even the odd boyfriend’s shirt, the operative word being odd. These were the days well before Netflix and chill and loungewear was unheard of.

It wasn’t until my wedding night in my 30s that I invested in a sheer back spaghetti-strapped night slip from Fenwicks, which at about three in the morning I remember being absolutely determined to get into.  I’m looking at it right now and has a definite baby doll aura to it.  As such it usually reposes in the nothing-within-is-ever-worn drawer, next to two Hermes silk scarves and some dodgy patterned tights. The label says “Only Hearts N.Y.C. Helena Stuart”. A quick look on the internet and it appears they have gone out of business, natch.

The baby doll moment heralded a long decline into voluminous, cosy pyjamas as the child-rearing years beckoned and were spent reposing in bed or reclined on the sofa.  I was never a fan of nighties – they invariably ended up round your armpits in the middle of the night, and not in a good way. Or made you channel Cherie Blair the-morning-after-the-Labour-victory-the-night -before in 1997, when she famously opened the door in her blue Next nightie and knobbly knees.

Earlier generations obviously wore nothing else. When my mother died, I found a long handmade nightdress I initially presumed had been sewn by my grandmother. On reflection, it was probably the work of her seamstress.  Mary was the eldest of eight from an Irish family and by the time she married, she was so done with domesticity that she only had one child and promptly fled to India and a house full of servants. This solitary family heirloom, (all her jewellery was stolen in the 80s) which I have also unearthed, still smells of that Victorian cure-all, camphor oil. It is made of the palest cream silk with a lattice of embroidery on the bodice (fagotting to those in the know), and a tiny heart-shaped pocket on the left hip. Every single seam is delicately hand sewn, a eulogy to an age when nightwear was treasured and not worn as flotsam to shop in at Tesco’s. I have never dared put it on and darkly fantasise about one day being buried in it.

Which is not to say I haven’t had some success with recycling long-lost nightwear. For the birth our first child, I took a massive pair of white linen jimmy-jams from the Italian label 120% Lino into hospital and found them again only recently, 18 years on. A new length elastic around the waistband, a 90 degree  wash and they’re as good as new. Flattering? Not so much, as I’m about two stone lighter.

For a few years, I quite liked my pink flannelettes from The White Company before they suddenly turned shrunken and hard. Then there were the brown silky pjs that had weird fastenings. A pair of DKNY grey brushed cotton ones from Costco (£13) last winter are super comfy but the trousers end halfway up my shins, and not in a cool, cropped way.

Less practical but more stylish are my Olivia von Halle navy blue heavy silk pyjamas, which I was persuaded to fork out £150 for (which included a 50% discount) during my foray on Planet Fashion. Yet they are cut so slim across the back that the silk has been stretched and I hardly wear them any more in case one final midnight toss-and-turn will precipitate a rip. For wafting around posh hotels only.

This week, one of my favourite bloggers and fellow journalist Esther Coren, also on a quest for the perfect pyjamas, highlighted a great-looking pair from Jigsaw – random, no? – and only £45.  Navy, fave colour, a bit of piping, cropped in a good way and roomy.

But could they handle these now warm summer nights? A recent buy from Zara Home of a shirt/shorts PJ combo erred on the decidedly damp side come morning.

When it’s really hot or on our annual sojourn down to the Gulf of Mexico, I reach for a couple of eberjey bamboo viscose nighties my sister-in-law introduced me to. They’re slightly too short and have the riding up problem, but stick them on some tanned legs and there’s a flatteringly cool LA feel about them.

Most likely to actually keep you looking and feeling cool is a new brand called Cucumber with high tech fabric that wicks away moisture and lasts six times longer than cotton. I’ve yet to try them but they have the Lisa Armstrong seal of approval and come navy and cropped.  Win, win. (I do have their matching sleep mask  which is the best £20 I’ve spent this year).

Short of ever finding the perfect nightwear, my dream scenario would be to live in the tropics and spend nights between 400 plus thread count sheets and nothing else. If our bedroom wasn’t at the back of a draughty Victorian terrace with a 20 foot pitch ceiling, I would. Because there is something wholly luxurious about lying between heavenly fabric ironed to within an inch of its life.

A quest for the perfect bedlinen, you say?  Don’t get me started…

Jackie Annesley is Creative Director of SODA, which sells cool tech stuff that works. 

Dear iPhone, You Are Seriously Annoying

red apple core

Dear iPhone.

I used to quite like you.

When you were really new, all rose gold and box fresh, a 6S Plus in full working order with a massive 128GB of memory. Which wasn’t that long ago in the great trajectory of life. Only 25 months to be exact. If you were a truculent toddler, you’d still be in nappies.

But you’re not. You have become a really annoying pocket computer with a truculent battery (among many other things). It’s the very worst of combinations.

I have to tell you there was a time when man used to make machines to last. My grandmother had a Hoover which I swear was working perfectly 25 years in. My mother inherited it and I can see it now standing proud under the stairs. It had a simple motor that sucked dust into a bag. Job done.

These days those Apple engineers in Cupertino, California design computers like you that have the lifespan of a mayfly. Built-in obsolescence, it’s called. Who knew that a trick hatched on December 23rd, 1924 by a cartel of lightbulb manufacturers to cut the lifespan of an incandescent light bulb from 2,000 hours down to just 1,000 in a bid to boost profits would still be legally adopted by so many businesses almost 100 years later?

Longevity was never part of your DNA my friend, and knowing your demise had something to do with downloading the latest iOS software, I studiously rejected your persistent calls to “install now” the software update. For months and months. Then standing in the cinema queue recently without my glasses, an erroneous tap resulted in that single white line eating its way across a black screen – like a flat-lining cardio monitor heralding death.

The die was cast.

Fully charged at 6am, you used to be out of puff by 2pm. Now it’s 10.28am. Copy gets locked on horizontal mode. Apps refuse to open. Everything sticks. Especially the home button. Tapping the screen becomes a bad-tempered jab.

Your bosses were finally forced to admit the truth last December. Announcing it had been deliberately slowing down iPhones in order to “preserve battery life” and give us “a better user experience” (I mean who writes this giberrish?), Apple apologised for not telling us all sooner.

So its software “upgrades” had indeed been sabotaging the likes of you for years, mildly anaesthetizing every iPhone and iPad except the very latest model.

Seriously, it’s not like Apple is exactly strapped for cash.

A few months ago it posted record quarterly revenues – £61.9 billion with a capital B, up from £55 billion in the same period last year. As the high street dies (something else you’re not entirely blameless for), Apple stores blossom like Japanese knotweed. Boy have you lot come a long way since co-founder Steve Jobs set up Apple Computer Inc in 1976 in the garage of his childhood home.

There are now more than 1.3 billion of us Apple addicts around the globe, plus millions more who regularly get that “Your invoice from Apple” for various apps and music services. I pay a monthly £2.99 for “upgraded Apple storage” for literally I don’t know what. (Honestly, must cancel, pronto).

In the age of plastic-free Fridays, the world according to David Attenborough demands better sustainability and more transparency from the most valuable company on planet Earth and the most successful of the tech titans in the FANG gang – Facebook, Apple, Netflix and Google. Instead of conning us with petty tricks, your name should be leading the way in making less disposable, more enduringly green machines.

It was your old boss Steve Jobs who once said: “My favourite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.” This is undoubtedly true, although I’m not sure I believe him, given his avaricious obsolescence legacy.

Clearly, I’d like to spend less time fiddling with you, my obstreperous iPhone 6s, and more time fulfilling IRL long-held travel fantasies and the like.

A new battery – free to those within warranty, cheap at £25 to the rest off us – was subsequently promised by Apple to all owners of the iPhone 6 and more modern models  throughout 2018, no questions asked. At the time it said: “We are able to do the work we love only because of your faith and support – and we will never forget that or take it for granted.”

Obviously it has now both forgotten our faith and support and taken it for granted.

Because earlier last month (subs: early May) BBC’s Watchdog revealed that Apple’s “no questions asked” policy translated into squeezing customers for inconsequential repairs, charging them up to ten times the cost of the new £25 battery, before it considered honouring the replacement. For minor transgressions like a cracked screen which it says might “impair the battery replacement”. One viewer reported Apple insisted he pay £200 to fix a dent in the chassis before it would replace the battery.

Never mind taking our faith for granted, that sounds like fraud to me. When I went online and asked for my £25 new battery, they trotted out the same line: “If there are cracked screens or other damage that may affect the functioning of a new battery they are required to fix it”.

I’d take you in for a refit myself if I didn’t think I’d be stung in the same manner as our French intern. She  returned a brand-new £1,249 MacBook Pro which had developed dents on the hinges, only to be told she’d opened the lid too far and that would be another £380, thank you very much.

She paid up but her fellow countrymen are having none of these Cupertino capers.

Earlier this year the French government opened a fraud case into Apple’s ‘planned obsolescence’ which carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison and up to five per cent of a company’s annual turnover. It’s also facing eight lawsuits in California, New York and Illinois over the concerns.

Our laws are a bit more rubbish over here, so for the moment I’m stuck with you. Until I get a lottery win or a random tax return.

But I certainly can’t pretend to like you anymore.

My Best Spa Treatment Ever Cost Just £34

pink pants

I’m sitting on a tiled bench in my M&S black Brazilians at the top of a house in Ouarzazate on the edge of the Sahara Desert in Morocco.

This was where parts of Gladiator was filmed (remember the slave scene with Oliver Reed?) though I’m pretty sure Russell Crowe never made it to “Epices Maria”, the Hammam at No 1570 Hay el Wanda street, next to the airport. Read More…

The Joy Of Unknown Lands

Stacked Vintage Luggage

It was Sir Richard Burton who said: “The gladdest moment in human life, methinks, is a departure into unknown lands.” No, not the Welsh thesp who married five times (he surprisingly only ever got a CBE) , but the Victorian scholar-explorer, an anti-colonialist who spoke 29 languages and was the first European to discover Lake Tanganyika in central Africa.

Never mind that you may never have heard of him – Burton had the heart of a true traveller, always poised to shake off what he called “the leaden weight of routine…the slavery of Civilization”. I’m totally with you Dickie. The leaden weight of The World’s Longest Winter has me ready to head to Terminal 5 with a gladdened heart and onto the Atlas Mountains, of which more later. Read More…

The Power Of Looking Up

abstract space background

Today the sky above London is, for a change, the very palest Monet blue, with gossamer fine clouds bleaching it even more. If you ignored the Victorian rooftops and the chilly four degrees, you might just be able to imagine a warm morning above Giverny on the Seine, where Monet lived and painted for 43 years.

He knew a thing or two about being inspired to look up.  Yet it’s an art the 21st century seems to have lost.

Read More…

Let’s Talk About Joe

jackie annesley no

Let’s talk about Joe. Its been a while. I take down my cuttings folder and find a piece I wrote for The Standard soon after he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in January 2009.  There he is all blond and curly-haired and four, smiling through the yellowed newsprint in a striped t-shirt under the headline “A Cure For Joe”. I’m behind him, sitting on the sofa wearing a terrible pair of jeans and a forced smile.

I read through it for the first time in nine years and surprise myself with tears. The type that spill from your eyes and drip silently from your chin. I’m an infrequent crier – we’re talking years  between bouts – but this bit got me: “‘When I’m five…’ He put his hand up and spread his fingers out.  ‘I’m going to take the blood tests and zappers (injections) back to the doctors. When I’m five.’”

Read More…